Wednesday, May 9, 2012

BUSTED! (out the window)

This morning I am pondering the thin hair-like connections in Ralph Thomas' 1952 film _The Assassin_ otherwise known as _Venetian Bird_ with various things that come to mind:

The main character pictured above is a private detective called Edward Mercer who's attempting, at least externally, to provide a character called Renzo Uccello (Cassana) with part of an inheritance, an award of some funds, but quickly finds himself embroglio'd in a local mystery, and criminal political plot (petit récits?).

In a standard genre move, Thomas has Mercer come across Uccello who appears as the photographer Cassana. The scene is in Saint Mark's square in Venice and birds are everywhere.

A couple of things stand out, the names:

Mercer comes from the Anglo-Norman marcer, mercer (“merchant, textile merchant”), from merz (“commodity”) (from Latin merx). And in the context of the film, there is a rich nexus of associations.
Edward itself comes from the old English eād (“rich”) + weard (“guard”), and indeed, Edward Mercer's
role in the film is as a 'guardian of riches', albeit one who is ostensibly seeking to disburse.
Then there is that place, Saint Mark's palazzo. Merx, Marx, Commodity, Commodity fetishism?
And oddly, the whole film is suffused with images of tapestries, even one by Uccello..

The basic outline of the plot could easily be an emblem for Marxist alienation. Renzo Uccello is an artist, and one who has a complicated past, namely, in a very basic sense, he has been both a hero and a villain, and at present is trying to become a hero in one context by being a villain in another, ie he's going to be an assassin for hire to get enough money to run away with his long-suffering wife. Edward Mercer has a similar history, having once inadvertently been involved in an assassination plot before, and now, unknowingly, again.
Renzo Uccello can only feed the life of his spirit, by selling the skill of his marksmanship.. Mercer can only escape his alienation by following a narrative of his own creation to its end. Mercer interjected himself randomly, it seems, into a private local conversation, and now faces not only punishment, but pain(t), and death, if he fails (morte).. In a sense, the whole movie might serve as a secular analog to Paolo Uccello's painting, Scenes from the life of the holy hermits. Edward Mercer, in fact stating, he is as much. Even the strange piety of Renzo Uccello, as he shoots the working class candidate in the hire of the moneyed class, where he gives the same cheers of the crowd, only to be ungulfed by the duplicitous force of his own alienation as he pulls the trigger, surely no truer example of the political grotesque can be found in any scene
in cinema!

Doing some searches on the other names, namely Uccello, I came across an interesting essay by Antonin Artaud called Ucello, Le Poil, and another called Paul les Oiseaux, ou la place de l'amour, but nowhere
yet in John C. Stout's book on Artaud's self portraiture did I find mention of  Ducasse's Maldoror, which also figures a singular portrait of a hair, and one in which the place de l'amour also figures, as well as the curiously repeated line: "And I applied my eye to the grating even more enthusiastically!" which sort of sums
up the oddity of this particular "hair"..  In Lautreamont, the narrator begs the hair to know who his master is,
or rather, what the master narrative or metanarrative could be, and the hair just keeps droning on and on, and combing it out and out further, just like a game, a game which is not a game, a game of not-game-ness,
a cliche' in other words, a shaggy dog story, of a painter, who is a fake photographer, who is a painter, a marker, a mark, a commodity, and assassin, a bird in space, a figure, a face, a being of light and darkness, caught in the act as it bursts through the frame, brutally delicate, and balancing its own portraiture, or 'bust'
in the common parlance, as in, "you're busted!" Renzo rinsing the hair. And Cassano plucking the bird. Giving the bird the middle finger. 

In 1425, Uccello travelled to Venice, where he worked on the mosaics for the façade of San Marco (all these works have been lost).  

The marks have been erased, rinsed (renzo'd) away..